Montana Book Review: Literary Thrills and Chills
By Doug Mitchell
A dark new novel from one of Montana’s most well-known master of thrillers, a heartfelt history from the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and a western-themed page-turner with a hearty heroine.
Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana.
Light of the World
By James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013
One of America’s premier fiction writers, James Lee Burke sets his 20th Dave Robicheaux novel, Light of the World, near his ranch home just south of Missoula.
For those not familiar with Burke’s work, Dave Robicheaux, a deputy sheriff in New Iberia, La., is the main character in as good a set of mystery stories as you’ll ever find. A deeply flawed, but an intensely human man, Robicheaux is the kind of imperfect character in whom we as readers can easily believe.
In Light of the World, Robicheaux is vacationing in Montana with his family and his ever present sidekick, Clete Purcel, when strange things begin to happen.
This dark, hard tale isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is a first-class page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat. More than that, it is a beautifully written book with the kind of memorable, elegant language that separates Burke from most of his peers in the fiction genre.
For long-time Burke fans, it is another great read.
First-time readers: Be prepared to get hooked and to develop an oddly strong opinion about whether your favorite character is Dave Robicheaux or Clete Purcel.
A Cheyenne Voice – The Complete John Stands in Timber Interviews
By John Stands in Timber and Margot Liberty
University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma, 2013
More than a half century in the making, A Cheyenne Voice – The Complete John Stands in Timber Interviews represents a significant contribution to the history and culture of the American West. In this dense and rich volume, author Margot Liberty presents a full transcription of the recorded interviews she did with Stands in Timber in the 1950s. The interviews were the basis of her 1967 book Cheyenne Memories. In the book, Liberty provides a rare and intimate window to an all too often forgotten past.
Born in 1882, John Stands in Timber sat for these interviews late in his life.
And what a life it was. An orphan, Stands in Timber was sent to a boarding school but returned to the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation at the age of 23, where he became a dedicated tribal historian, story collector and protector of the native language.
There is no way not to be moved by this book. Although at times a difficult read because it is a direct transcription, the stories and history shared by Stands in Timber, as elicited through the capable questioning of Liberty, take the reader to a very special place. It is the kind of book you will want to keep by your bedside table and read in reflective moments because the stories are so warm and significant that they demand the attention of a treasured moment.
By K.C. McRae
Midnight Ink, Minnesota, 2013
I was prepared not to expect much of Shotgun Moon when it got to the top of the pile of books by my nightstand. I had not heard of the author and was not familiar with the publisher, but I liked the premise of a female heroine in a western novel and figured I would give it a whirl.
I’m glad I did.
Shotgun Moon is a breath of fresh air from a talented writer who, I later learned, has an accomplished career writing under other names. This is her first novel writing as K.C. McRae.
On the first page of the book we are introduced to our heroine, Merry McCoy, recently released from prison and headed back to her home in the fictional rural Montanan town of Hazel.
Merry is as refreshing and original of a character as I have come across in a long time. From the moment she returns home we are on a 300-page thrill ride that is filled with amazing characters.
I had the chance to ask McRae some questions about Shotgun Moon.
Here’s what she had to say about the book and her work.
Q: You are already a successful author through your two series Magical Bakery Mysteries (writing under the name of Bailey Cates) and Home Crafting Mysteries (Cricket McRae), what made you decide to take a chance with Shotgun Moon.
A: I’ve always been drawn to western writers and to stories that depict the unique sensibilities of western life. As much as I enjoy the work of authors like Doig, Duncan, Kittredge or McGuane, I’m a mystery writer at heart and am also a big fan of James Lee Burke, Dana Stabenow, Craig Johnson and C.J. Box. The idea for Shotgun Moon had been percolating for years, and when I found myself with an opening in my writing schedule I decided it was time to bring it to life. It certainly is a departure from my two cozy mystery series, which is one of the reasons it was so enormously fun to write. Cozy mysteries are typically lighter fare with little actual violence, sex or even bad language. In the world of Shotgun Moon the story couldn’t be told that way, and I loved the opportunity to write a little darker.
Q: Merry McCoy is quite a character. Where did she come from?
A: I have had the luck to know many women who meet adversity – both the everyday stumbling blocks and life-altering enormities – with quiet strength. They take a deep breath and do what needs to be done, from putting down a horse to changing a bed pan, from protecting their children to living in constant pain. These women taught me how gentle strength can be and how brutal as well. They showed me, and continue to show me, that it’s possible to get through life without letting it wear you away, that success can simply mean retaining the ability to be compassionate in the middle of it all while not giving into bitterness or self-pity. The journey to reach that equanimity is rarely pretty or smooth, but it’s worth it. Some of these people are friends and others are members of my family. These women all inspired my flawed but persistent main character. One of them was my great-grandmother, Essie McCoy, whose name I borrowed for Merry.
Q: You have a new Bailey Cates book coming out, Some Enchanted Éclair, in July. Tell us a bit about the transition as a writer from writing a book like Shotgun Moon, then moving back to a Magical Bakery Mystery.
A: Some Enchanted Eclair is my 11th novel, and the fourth Magical Bakery Mystery. In some ways it’s the polar opposite of Shotgun Moon – set in the Deep South, featuring a young witch who owns a bakery. The tone is lighter, and there’s an emphasis on food – especially savory pastries. In some ways that makes it easier to write than something like Shotgun, simply because the story is not as layered. However, the mystery still needs to work in an interesting and coherent way, and Katie Lightfoot, the witch in question, is actually an old fashioned herbal healer whose father is descended from Shawnee medicine men. Like Merry, she’s resourceful, cares about her friends and family, and takes care of business. I’ve found that the luxury of being able to switch from one kind of mystery writing to another keeps things fresh and interesting.
Q: Why did you choose Montana as the location for Shotgun Moon?
A: Both of my parents were born in Montana. My dad worked at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, and I have family in Billings. I grew up mostly in northern Wyoming and Colorado. Then, when I lived in Seattle I visited the Bitterroot Valley and fell in love with the place. For years I wanted to live there, and one day that still might happen. In the meantime, Shotgun Moon gave me the opportunity to partially live my fantasy on the page.
Q: Will fans of Shotgun Moon we see more from K.C. McRae and if so, can you give us a sneak peek?
A: I have several projects in the works, among them a couple more K.C. McRae adventures. One is set in a primitive living school and another in a cult-like compound in the Yaak Valley. However, neither is presently under contract, so my priority in the next six months will be on my current obligations.
To another book review by Doug Mitchell, click here.
Grizzly Guardian finds wild calling
By Corinne Garcia, Photos by Erik Petersen
Not just anyone would opt for a bear as a pet in lieu of something a lot less intimidating. But for Casey Anderson, an animal lover and naturalist who has made a career out of working with and exploring some of the world’s most feared animals, somehow it doesn’t seem so strange. Host of the National Geographic Channel series “America the Wild,” the fifth generation Montanan has paved his own way through the animal kingdom, going from hobby tracker to wildlife expert and spokesperson.
In 2002, Anderson met Brutus, a grizzly cub who was just the size of a squirrel. Through this quirky bear, and other wild animals he has come to know and understand, he has been able to dispel many myths about predators. But first, Anderson had to learn about them himself.
What is Brutus like today? He’s a one-of-a-kind bear living at Anderson’s Montana Grizzly Encounter outside Bozeman.
To view videos of Brutus, as well as other bears at the sanctuary, visit the santurary’s bearcam page.
To read the entire feature on Casey Andereson, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Last Farm Standing: Kalispell Kreamery
Story and photos by Jessica Lowry
For 35 years – no matter the late nights, the sideways-blowing snow or the hard bite of winter mornings – the Hedstrom Dairy cows have known exactly what shapes would darken the barn’s pre-dawn doorway just as certain as they could expect the sun to rise over the Swan Mountains looming to the east.
Mornings start early on the farm. Cows don’t care if you were up late into the night or have other things to do. They need to be milked.
Bill and Marilyn Hedstrom have spent the past 35 years keeping their cows happy around the clock.
After three and a half decades and in a valley where tourism and traffic to Glacier National Park drive a significant segment of the economy, Kalispell Kreamery and Hedstrom Dairy is the last Flathead dairy farm in operation.
After falling in love with the family’s first cow in 1978, the Hedstrom’s opened a dairy. What started as a five acre operation in Happy Valley has grown into an 80-acre farm in West Valley.
To read the entire feature on the Kalispell Kreamery, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Bow Virtuoso: Expert craftsman creates one-of-a-kind hunting tools
Story by Brian D’Ambrosio, Photos by Jeremy Lurgio
In bowyer Jim Rempp’s opinion, simple and basic are the natural equals of skill and precision.
“People are tired of current technology,” Rempp said. “They want to go back to the simple things. Wooden archery is the original native archery.”
As a part of a recent consumer backlash against cheaper, newer materials in the past 10 years, Rempp has seen primitive archery re-emerge as an alternative. In a reversal of attitude, many of today’s archers prefer traditional wooden bows over modern counterparts.
“These are the most primitive bows that there are,” said Rempp in between rounds of target practice on a spacious slice of farmland outside Missoula where he makes and tests bows. “They are all wood. Basically, they are just a stick.”
To read the entire feature on Jim Rempp, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Postcard Portraits of Pioneers
Story by Ednor Therriault, Photos courtesy of Philip Burgess
Blood-chilling blizzards. Withering heat waves. Starved-out livestock. Parched terrain that stubbornly refused to support a decent crop of anything.
The badlands of northeastern Montana could seem as inhospitable as the moon, but that didn’t keep thousands of homesteaders from making their way westward after the Civil War, hoping to find their fortune or simply scratch a living out of a 320-acre parcel of government-granted land.
Imagine doing it all while wearing a dress.
Montana author Philip Burgess’s latest book, Penny Post Cards and Prairie Flowers, chronicles the journey of two Minnesota sisters who did just that, leaving their town of Norwegian transplants to seek the autonomy promised by claiming a chunk of land in the harsh territory of eastern Montana.
To read the entire feature on Penny Post Cards and Prairie Flowers, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Enduring art from the New Deal
Story by Marilyn Jones
Born and raised in Deer Lodge, painter Elizabeth Lochrie completed an art degree at Pratt Institute before returning to Montana to raise her family and pursue what became a storied art career.
Best known for her portraits of local Native Americans, the bulk of Lochrie’s work is featured in Montana’s Museum and Holter Museum of Art, both in Helena.
But one of Lochrie’s works remains on prominent public display thanks to a unique government project aimed at boosting the arts during the Depression.
It stands inside the Dillon Post Office lobby, a place usually bustling as people hurry to conduct their business.
Like the “”News from the States” mural painted by Lochrie in Dillon in 1938, wall murals painted by American artists dating back to the 1930s and early 40s are on display across Montana, giving those hurried customers an excuse to pause. Many of works were painted by artists considered the best of their generation.
To read the entire feature on Montana’s post office murals, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Beloved Bar: Historic Miles City watering hole has new owner
Story by Cathy Moser, Photos by Jackie Jensen
Why would a young, first-time bar owner rejoice in the responsibility of owning a century-old bar? Why would he relish the duties of not only being entrusted with upholding its reputation as a respectable place to drink and socialize, but as curator of its traditions and impressive collection of Old West artifacts?
“I love this bar,” Blake Mollman said unabashedly.
Perhaps, then, it was fate when Mollman and his cousin trailed a pretty girl to Miles City in 2006 and Mollman found himself striding into the Montana Bar on Main Street.
Mollman soon found himself bartending there. Soon after that, he was promoted to assistant manager. While working all those day and night shifts, he learned that Scotsman James Kenney opened the upscale bar in 1908, and that it is a beloved Miles City institution where the dark tones of much of the bar’s original furnishings continue to uphold its rich Western heritage.
Mollman also came to learn that someday he’d like to own the Montana Bar.
“Someday” came for 31-year-old Mollman in August 2013 when former owner Currie Colbin decided he wanted to sell the place.
To read the entire feature on the Montana Bar, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Adventures on Ice: Winter climbing in Glacier National Park
The piercing sound of my alarm rudely cuts through the peaceful night. I role over and look at the clock, it’s 4 a.m.
My first thought: “This sucks, but today is going to be good.”
I drag my butt out of bed and get on with it.
Ben Brunsvold and I are heading to Glacier National Park to climb ice. Early season conditions will be good and we want to take advantage of the prime ice while the road to Avalanche Lake is still open.
I’ve climbed in many different corners of the world and still feel Glacier National Park is as spectacular and beautiful as anywhere I’ve laid eyes on. When the conditions are good and friends are available, every bit of suffering is worth just one moment to look out over the beauty of the surroundings with your best friends.
To read the rest of Gibisch’s story about ice climbing in Glacier, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more Montana all year, subscribe now.
Want more? Read about another of Gibisch’s ice climbing adventures.